Press Release

Gillibrand Testimony Before Senate Judiciary Committee At Hearing To Examine Role Of Law Enforcement In Campus Sexual Assault Cases

Dec 9, 2014

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand testified today on behalf of the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism at a hearing entitled, “Campus Sexual Assault: the Roles and Responsibilities of Law Enforcement.” Senator Gillibrand, who is an author of this legislation, also addressed the recent Rolling Stone story creating national headlines. Following are the full prepared remarks of her testimony at today’s hearing:

“Senator Whitehouse, thank you for chairing this hearing today to examine the role and responsibility of law enforcement in combating the scourge of sexual violence on our college campuses. The fact, that according to one study, nearly one in five women in college will be victims of sexual assault or attempted assault during their undergraduate careers should shake the conscience of all of us, and it demands our action. Too many young women’s lives are being changed forever for us to accept the status quo.

“Earlier this Congress, Senator McCaskill and I, along with a bipartisan coalition of 10 Senators ranging the political ideological spectrum introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act – a bill that would finally hold colleges and universities accountable for facing this problem head-on, aggressively, with the goal of making safety on our campuses a reality for America’s students, and not an empty promise. This bill was the result of exhaustive efforts listening to survivors and examining the shortcomings in the current college and university system.

“I want to thank both Chairman Whitehouse and Ranking Member Graham for their leadership on this issue and for their support of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. Clearly, we in Congress must look at how law enforcement must improve and be part of the solution.  First, in our comprehensive bill, we require every college and university in the country to have a memorandum of understanding with local enforcement. It is shocking that this requirement does not already exist. In this these types of crime, where physical evidence is crucial, time is precious, and we can not tolerate hours or days or weeks of delay while jurisdictional arguments are being made.

 “This is an area where Congress can act by passing this important legislation that will also serve to flip the current incentives for colleges and universities that would rather sweep these reports under the rug.  Second, our ultimate goal should be that 100 percent of survivors of campus assault feel comfortable and confident reporting to law enforcement so that alleged assailants are legally held accountable through due process. This is a long-term goal that we must strive for.

“But, time and again, I have heard from far too many survivors of campus sexual assault that they have felt re-victimized by the process of trying to seek justice for the crime committed against them.  This inescapable fact must be fixed. The police should be the first responders when a crime this serious occurs, but the vast majority of police departments have responded to reports with victim blaming and belittlement, and as a result, survivors have lost trust in law enforcement. 

“Today, I would like to provide the committee with some accounts of survivor experiences when they tried to report their rapes to the police to shine a light on the shortcomings that must be addressed.   But first I want to address the University of Virginia story in Rolling Stone that some may hold up as a reason not to believe survivors when they come forward.

“Clearly, we don’t know the facts of what did or did not happen in this case. But these facts have not changed:  UVA has admitted they have allowed students who have confessed to sexually assaulting another student to remain on campus. That is and remains shocking. More importantly, it has never been about this one school and it is painfully clear that colleges across the country have a real problem with how they are handling, or not handling cases of sexual assault on their campuses.

“I hope this story will not ultimately outshine the story of thousands of brave women and men telling their stories and holding their colleges and universities across the country accountable. And I hope it will not discourage other students from coming forward because it is the students themselves all across the country who are demanding reform and their voices are vital in this debate. And I refuse to let this story to become an excuse for Congress to do nothing and accept a broken system. Because I have met these students and seen them bravely tell their painful and personal stories just so that no other young woman on campus will have their own story to tell tomorrow.

“Young women like Emma Sulkowicz, who was raped by a fellow student at Columbia University in 2012, reported her rape to the police in 2014. She described to a police detective how her assailant had pinned her arms down behind her head, pushed her legs up against her chest, penetrated her anally, choked her, and hit her across the face, despite her shouting and telling him “no.”The detective responded by telling Emma that the encounter was consensual because she’d had previous consensual sex with this individual. The officer repeatedly stated that the perpetrator just “got a little weird that night, right?” and told her that a defense attorney would rip her story apart.

“Anna was raped at the age of 18, just two weeks into her freshman year at Hobart & William Smith Colleges. When she filed formal criminal charges, the police sent the prosecutor a report filled with errors, which included, in particular, failing to identify major discrepancies in the statements given by the three alleged perpetrators. An examination by a sexual assault nurse indicated that Anna had experienced blunt-force trauma, and tests found sperm or semen in her vagina and rectum and on her underwear, but the police never acquired DNA samples from the alleged perpetrators. The district attorney never interviewed Anna and he declined to bring charges just one day after the case was referred to him.

“Even in cases where survivors have felt supported by their interactions with police, they have been devastated by slipshod investigations, drawn-out court proceedings, and the refusal of prosecutors to take their cases. Four out every five rapes that are reported to the police are never prosecuted. That is simply unacceptable.

“We must provide survivors of campus sexual assault with options for reporting to police that are beneficial to both law enforcement and survivors. This will encourage more survivors to come forward to pursue justice, and ultimately, lead to more cooperative witnesses and better information to send to district attorneys to prosecute.

“The Ashland Police Department in Ashland, Oregon has developed a model for investigating reports of sexual assault that strives to achieve these goals called the You Have Options Reporting Program.The department found that by using trauma-informed investigative techniques and allowing victims to provide as much, or as little, information about the assault as the victims choose, and in the timeframe that they feel comfortable, the department can actually increase reporting and collect better evidence.By using the You Have Options Reporting Program, the Ashland Police Department saw an increase in reporting of sexual assaults by 106% between 2010 and 2013.

“There is a critical role for law enforcement to play in combating campus sexual assaults. By creating an environment that encourages reporting of sexual assaults, police departments can help bring these cases out of the shadows and hold more offenders accountable.  

“I look forward to hearing the testimony of today’s witnesses to identify areas where we can improve our criminal justice system and the way it responds to campus sexual assault. And I look forward to continuing the push for reform of the way campuses handle campus sexual assault, by passing the Campus Accountability and Safety Act.

“It is time to end the scourge of rape and sexual assault at America’s colleges, provide survivors with the resources they need to recover, and hold offenders accountable.

“Thank you again, Senator Whitehouse, for chairing this hearing today. And I look forward to working with my colleagues from both parties on this important topic next Congress.”

Studies indicate that nearly one in five women experience some form of sexual assault in college, but that the vast majority of these cases go unreported.  The hearing focused on this disparity and examined whether victims of sexual assaults should be encouraged to report their experiences to the police; why victims feel uncomfortable or unsafe reporting crimes; and what steps can be taken to respect the needs of student victims who choose to report while also bringing their perpetrators to justice.

The bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act will flip the incentives and make it in the schools’ immediate best interest to take proactive steps to protect their students and rid their campuses of sexual predators.

Provisions of the bipartisan legislation include:

  • New Campus Resources and Support Services for Student Survivors: Under this legislation, colleges and universities will be required to designate Confidential Advisors who will serve as a confidential resource for victims of assaults committed against a student. The role of Confidential Advisors will be to coordinate support services and accommodations for survivors, to provide information about options for reporting, and to provide guidance or assistance, at the direction of the survivor, in reporting the crime to campus authorities and/or local law enforcement. To encourage individuals to come forward with reports about sexual violence, schools will no longer be allowed to sanction a student who reveals a violation in good faith, such as underage drinking, in the process of reporting a sexual violence claim.
  • Minimum Training Standards for On-Campus Personnel: Currently, a chronic lack of training of on-campus personnel hampers sexual assault investigations and disciplinary processes, often resulting in negative outcomes for survivors. This legislation ensures that everyone from the Confidential Advisors, to those responsible for investigating and participating in disciplinary proceedings, will now receive specialized training to ensure they have a firm understanding of the nature of these crimes and their effect on survivors.
  • New Historic Transparency Requirements: For the first time, students at every university in America will be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence to get an accurate picture of this problem.  This new annual survey will be standardized and anonymous, with the results published online so that parents and high school students can make an informed choice when comparing universities. The Department of Education will also be required to publish the names of all schools with pending investigations, final resolutions, and voluntary resolution agreements related to Title IX.
  • Campus Accountability and Coordination with Law Enforcement: All schools will now be required to use a uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings and may no longer allow athletic departments or other subgroups to handle complaints of sexual violence for members of that subgroup alone. This legislation will require colleges and universities to enter into memoranda of understanding with all applicable local law enforcement agencies to clearly delineate responsibilities and share information so that when an assault occurs, both campus authorities and local authorities can focus on solving the crime rather than debating jurisdiction.
  • Enforceable Title IX Penalties and Stiffer Penalties for Clery Act Violations: Schools that don’t comply with certain requirements under the bill may face a penalty of up to 1% of the institution’s operating budget. Previously, the only allowable penalty was the loss of all financial aid which is not practical and has never been done. The bill increases penalties for Clery Act violations to up to $150,000 per violation from the current penalty of $35,000.

The Department of Education handles laws covering sexual assault on campus. Title IX, a federal gender equity law, requires colleges and universities to respond to sexual assault and harassment cases on campus and have policies in place to help prevent such incidents. The Jeanne Clery Act mandates that colleges and universities report information on crime on and around campuses and provide victims with select rights and resources. 

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act is supported by a growing bipartisan coalition of 15 Senators including Gillibrand: Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mark Begich (D-AK), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The Senators have been working together for months to examine federal, state, and local policies, collect feedback from stakeholders, and craft bipartisan legislation to better protect and empower students, and hold both perpetrators and institutions accountable.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act is also supported by some of the leading advocacy groups in the country including: End Rape on Campus, RAINN (“Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network,” the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization), Know Your IX, SAFER (Students Active For Ending Rape), V-Day (the global activist movement to end violence against women and girls), SurvJustice and Generation Progress.